Community Sports

Gig Harbor grad Brynna Maxwell hopes to help Zags make a deep run in March

Posted on March 7th, 2024 By:

Brynna Maxwell was a scoring machine for Gig Harbor High School, the Class 3A state player of the year after leading the Tides to their first state girls basketball championship in 2018.

In the coming weeks, she will get another chance to shine on a big stage. Maxwell, a graduate senior guard, is a key player for a Gonzaga University team that has a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Maxwell began getting shots up at the age of 2 on a miniature hoop with her twin brother Nate. She is the only daughter of Steve and Kim Maxwell, who were both basketball players at Pacific Lutheran University.

They passed their love of the game on to Brynna, who is as kind off the court as she is competitive on it. She used a tireless work ethic and an unmatched drive to become this area’s greatest female basketball player.

Brynna Maxwell of Gig Harbor cuts down the net after winning the Class 3A state championship in 2018. Maxwell, now with Gonzaga, hopes to cut more nets next week at the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.

Owner of eight school records

During her senior season with the Tides, Maxwell averaged 26.8 points per game, 9.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 4.6 steals a game. She holds eight Gig Harbor career records: Total points (1,968), points in a season (671), points in a game (48), career steals (388 ), career 3-pointers made (203), and free throws in a game (17), season (146), and career (369).

Maxwell also holds the state record for points in a 3A championship game with 31 against Garfield; she averaged 27.7 points per game at the state tournament that year. She was a three-time all-state selection and was Washington’s Ms. Basketball in 2019.

Now Maxwell has her eyes on a even bigger prize.

She is starring for No. 15 Gonzaga Bulldogs, who went unbeaten in West Coast Conference play this season and soon will be headed to March Madness.

Up next for Gonazaga is the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, which begins for the Zags at noon on Monday, March 11. The Zags will play either San Francisco, St. Mary’s or Loyola Marymount in the tournament semifinals, but none of them are likely to prove much of an impediment. The Zags (29-2) went 16-0 against conference foes, with the closest margin being 91-78 over Pacific in February.

Gonzaga’s Brynna Maxwell, a Gig Harbor grad, drives during a game agains the University of San Diego.

From the Utes to the Zags

Maxwell started her college career at Utah, where she played three seasons. She scored more than 1,000 career points for the Utes and twice made the Pac-12 honorable mention all-conference team.

During her career at Utah, she scored in double figures 34 times and won the Pac-12 player of the week award after exploding for 34 points at Oregon State.

She led the Pac-12 in free throw percentage at 92.4 percent during her sophomore year, the third-best mark in the country. If that wasn’t enough, she made the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll twice.

Maxwell entered the transfer portal after only averaging 20 minutes of playing time during her junior season. Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier, who also recruited Maxwell out of high school, still coveted the shooting guard to complete her talented team.

Utah fans must have wondered what happened as one of the best shooters in the country walked out the door. Those fans and coaches should have hid her keys, flattened her tires and begged her to stay. Instead she drove from Salt Lake City to Spokane and hasn’t looked back.

“Brynna is going to be a great addition to our team,” Fortier said when Maxwell signed. “She is a great shooter who has the team mentality. She is a tireless worker with goals that we can help her achieve, we can’t wait to get to work.”

One of college basketball’s top shooters

Maxwell still had two years of eligibility left after the NCAA awarded a fifth year of eligibility to athletes affected by the COVID pause.

Maxwell lit it up from long range in her first year in Spokane, dropping 48.3 percent of her threes. She scored in double figures 23 times with a season high of 26 points versus Pepperdine. During her current, graduate senior season, she led the country in 3-point shooting for the first couple months.

Gig Harbor graduate Brynna Maxwell displays her perfect shooting form during a game for Gonzaga.

She averages 14.2 points per game on a deep team with multiple players that can score. Her average could easily be higher but the Zags have demolished their conference foes and rested many starters during lopsided WCC wins. She has still piled up impressive individual awards, as was twice named to the West Coast Conference first team for the Bulldogs and has also been selected as an academic honoree as well.

Maxwell has a shooting stroke that is simply a thing of beauty and is one of the quickest in the country. She takes as little as .6 seconds from catch to release. It was perfected by years in the gym with her father, Steve.

Gym time

If you found a place to shoot in this town during the COVID lockdown, chances are the Maxwells were already there first.

Steve diligently rebounded and coached as Brynna went through countless drills and shot from multiple places on the court. Her father’s instructions included: “Set your feet, elbow in, bend your knees, follow through, weight forward, grab the laces, don’t drift, snap the wrist, square the shoulders, eyes on target, forget about the miss, be ready on the catch and believe it’s going in, every single time.”

Brynna would nod and accept the advice before snapping the net over and over again in an impressive display. The pair perfected a shot that is as quick as lightning but as soft as microwaved butter.

Maxwell possesses many other qualities that have made her a complete player. She stands 6-feet tall with long arms, bouncy legs and thick, broad shoulders that give her the strength to score in traffic and defend bigger players. Not just a shooter, Maxwell possesses the ability to put the ball on the floor with an abundance of finishing moves and a nearly-automatic pull-up jumper.

If defenses try to key in on her she uses her court vision and passing skills to find an open player. Defenders do not want to go for a head fake or she will draw a foul and make opponents pay at the free throw line. Last season she broke the long-standing Gonzaga free throw percentage record by making a remarkable 93.4 percent of her attempts.

GU’s high-octane offense

Gonzaga has won 23 consecutive games, with the Zags’ only losses coming to top 25 teams Louisville (81-70) and Washington State (77-72 in overtime). They defeated the No. 3 Stanford Cardinal, 96-78, on Dec. 3 in Spokane behind Maxwell’s 27 points.

Gonzaga won its 19th WCC regular season conference championship this year. The Zags appear to be locks to play in their 15th NCAA tournament. Many observers feel this Gonzaga team may be one of their very best and could advance deep into the tournament.

The Bulldogs have the WCC MVP in center Yvonne Ejim. Maxwell is a first-team all-WCC selection along with twin sisters Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong.

The Zags have the 10th best scoring offense in Division I, averaging 80.2 points per game and will focus on pushing the pace to advance through the NCAA tournament.

Maxwell still has an outside shot at the NCAA 3-point shooting title. She made 45.2% of 3’s this year, slightly behind Te-Hina Paopao (48.5) of No. 1 South Carolina.  By comparison, college hoops superstar Caitlin Clark is making 39.3% of her 3’s.

Gig Harbor’s Brynna Maxwell set a Class 3A record with 31 points in the 2018 state championship game.

Role model

Fortunately, Maxwell has used her time wisely as a graduate student. After securing a communications degree with an emphasis in journalism from Utah in just three years, she is pursuing her graduate degree in organizational leadership at Gonzaga. An avid writer and outdoor enthusiast, Maxwell has expressed interest in possibly coaching the game she loves once her playing days are through.

Many scouts feel there will be possible professional opportunities for Maxwell in either the WNBA or various professional leagues in foreign countries. She grew up watching and emulating two local stars. Her parents would often take her to watch four-time WNBA champion Sue Bird play with the Seattle Storm and former NCAA scoring champion Kelsey Plum when she played at the University of Washington, before winning successive WNBA titles with the Las Vegas Aces.

Maxwell sat and watched every move those two players made as she dreamed of reaching the Final Four and someday playing professionally. Now our town and youth players will have their eyes focused squarely on Maxwell in the NCAA tournament. Fortunately they will see a hard working athlete with exceptional skills and passion for her sport that has combined athletics and high academic success to become a true role model for all of us to appreciate and root for.